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Incitement to riot? What Trump told supporters before mob stormed Capitol

President Trump delivered an incendiary speech from behind bullet-proof glass panels to thousands of supporters near the White House in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
President Trump delivered an incendiary speech from behind bullet-proof glass panels to thousands of supporters near the White House in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.PETE MAROVICH/NYT

WASHINGTON — The speech that President Donald Trump delivered to his supporters just before they attacked the Capitol last week is a central focus as House Democrats prepare an article of impeachment against him for inciting the deadly riot.

Trump had urged supporters to come to Washington for a “Save America March” on Wednesday, when Congress would ceremonially count President-elect Joe Biden’s win, telling them to “be there, will be wild!” At a rally hours before the violence, he repeated many of his falsehoods about how the election was stolen, then dispatched the marchers to the Capitol as those proceedings were about to start.

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Here are some notable excerpts from Trump’s remarks, with analysis.

Trump urged his supporters to 'fight much harder' against 'bad people' and 'show strength' at the Capitol."

"Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It's like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we're going to have to fight much harder. …"We're going to walk down to the Capitol, and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."

The president’s speech was riddled with violent imagery and calls to fight harder than before. By contrast, he made only a passing suggestion that the protest should be nonviolent, saying, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

During Trump’s impeachment last year, one of his defenses was that the primary accusation against him — that he abused his power by withholding aid to Ukraine in an attempt to get its president to announce a corruption investigation into Biden — was not an ordinary crime, so it did not matter even if it were true. Most legal specialists said that made no difference for impeachment purposes, but in any case that argument would not be a defense here. Several laws clearly make it a crime to incite a riot or otherwise try to get another person to engage in a violent crime against property or people.

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Trump told the crowd that 'very different rules' applied.

“When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

Whipping up anger against Republicans who were not going along with his plan for subverting the election, like Vice President Mike Pence, Trump told the crowd that “different rules” now applied. At the most obvious level, the president was arguing that what he wanted Pence to do — reject the state-certified Electoral College results — would be legitimate, but the notion of “very different rules” applying carried broader overtones of extraordinary permission as well. (“RINO” is a term of abuse used by highly partisan Republicans against more moderate colleagues they deem to be “Republicans in Name Only.”)

Trump insinuated that Republican officials, including Pence, would endanger themselves by accepting Biden's win.

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“I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. … And I actually — I just spoke to Mike. I said: ‘Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage.’”

“I also want to thank our 13 most courageous members of the U.S. Senate, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Josh Hawley. … Senators have stepped up. We want to thank them. I actually think, though, it takes, again, more courage not to step up, and I think a lot of those people are going to find that out. And you better start looking at your leadership, because your leadership has led you down the tubes.”

Trump twice told the crowd that Republicans who did not go along with his effort to overturn the election — Pence as well as senators like Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, who did not join in the performative objections led by Hawley and Cruz — were actually the ones being courageous. In context, the president’s implication is that they were putting themselves at risk because it would be safer to go along with what he wanted. During the ensuing riot, the mob chanted “Hang Mike Pence.”

Trump suggested that he wanted his supporters to stop the certification of Biden's electoral win, not just protest it.

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We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal. …“You will have an illegitimate president. That is what you will have, and we can’t let that happen. These are the facts that you won’t hear from the fake news media. It’s all part of the suppression effort. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to talk about it. …“We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

Two months after he lost the election, Trump repeatedly told his followers that they could still stop Biden from becoming president if they “fight like hell,” a formulation that suggested they act and change things, not merely raise their voices.

As he dispatched his supporters into what became deadly chaos, Trump falsely told them that he would come, too.

"Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you. … We are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give — the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote, but we are going to try — give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don't need any of our help, we're try — going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

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As he sicced his supporters on Congress, Trump assured them that he would personally accompany them to the Capitol. In fact, as several of his followers and police officers were injured or dying in the ensuing chaos, the president watched the violence play out on television from the safety of the White House.